Inquest jury urges public to check smoke alarms regularly

The jury at joint inquests into the deaths of a father and his young daughter in a house fire in Tralee has asked the public to check their smoke alarms regularly.

Verdicts of death due to acute carbon monoxide poisoning due to smoke inhalation as the result of a house fire were returned in the deaths of Anthony O’Brien, aged 29. and his daughter, Nadine, aged 5. Both were pronounced dead at Kerry General Hospital on May 12, 2012.

Firefighters who took them from the upstairs bedroom of their home at 42 Killeen Height had to feel their way through the thick smoke and zero visibility in the early hours of that Saturday morning, the inquest was told.

The fire had so engulfed the house, the jury heard, that blue-green flames were climbing along the front wall from the downstairs sitting room, sparks were coming from the roof, windows had burst, and gardaí and others were beaten back by the flames and smoke when they tried to gain entry to the house at around 2.30am.

The harrowing evidence heard how Kelly O’Brien, Mr O’Brien’s wife and the mother of Nadine, had made desperate attempts to sound the alarm. After being helped down by her husband from a ledge through an upstairs window, Ms Kelly, who was afraid of heights, jumped and injured her leg. She had crawled along the ground and began banging on a neighbouring house.

In her deposition, read to the inquest by Inspector Donal Ashe, Ms O’Brien told how, shortly after midnight, she and her husband had gone to sleep with Nadine between them as was usual at the weekend. Ms O’Brien told how they had both taken a sleeping tablet, but she woke up to “a burning smell” which was stopping her breathing.

Ms O’Brien said the house only had one smoke alarm, on the landing, and she thought it was working as it had a red light. Gardaí said they did not hear the smoke alarm sounding.

Firefighter John M O’Donnell, who lifted the soot-covered bodies of Mr O’Brien and Nadine from the bedroom, said there was zero visibility upstairs.

Dr Margot Bolster found the cause of death in both cases to be acute carbon monoxide poisoning due to smoke inhalation. A mix of sedatives in the therapeutic range — these were prescribed or legal sedatives such as anti-depressants the inquest heard — was a contributory factor in the case of the death of Mr O’Brien, in that they would have further depressed the respiratory system and so hastened death, the inquest was told.

The jury asked to bring in a rider, that all smoke alarms should be fitted properly and checked regularly.


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